Black Widow: Forever Red – Superhero Saturday

Last week I wrote about my struggle with reading comic books, so I’m particularly delighted whenever I find a novelization of a superhero character, especially a really interesting one like Margaret Stohl’s Black Widow: Forever Red.

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When I first read the jacket copy of the book I was a little skeptical – the plot seemed like a bait and switch.  Yes, Black Widow is a character, but the protagonist is someone named Ava Orlova.  And it’s true that Natasha remains a secondary character – however, the shared history between Natasha and Ava is what binds the whole story together and provides insight into Black Widow’s twisted childhood and adolescence in a fresh way.

This felt like a novelized  superhero comic story – fast paced, lots of action, lots of plot twists, and it was a very enjoyable ride.  I do wish that the characters would have been a little more developed, and I did find the initial setup of Ava being on her own and yet somehow a competitive fencer a smidge on the unbelievable side, but overall I thought it was a strong, enjoyable book with two powerful dynamic females at the helm.

There’s also a sequel on the way – and I hope this bodes well for more novelized versions of both Marvel and DC characters.

The Darkest Part of the Forest: Book Review

This week I listened to the audiobook version of Holly Black’s The Darkest Part of the Forest, and I found myself listening to it outside of work hours because I was so eager to finish it.  

One of Black’s real talents, which is definitely on display in other books such as the White Cat novels and The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, is her ability to take large scale fantasy and tuck it into the modern world in a way that is, pardon the pun, downright magical.

That is especially true of this book – Black somehow, and as a writer I envy this in a big way, manages to work a traditional quest to Faerie into the life of a seemingly regular teenage girl. What’s so remarkable about this is that she does it without losing any of the relatability of her main character or any of the wonder and terror of her fantastical elements.

Yes, there’s a monster-fighting sequence in a high school that reminds me, and not in a good way, of a lost episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. But that was one of very few missteps in an otherwise well-crafted story.

Black’s work can sometimes be a little too dark for me, but this book, oddly enough given its title, seemed a lot less grim.  I see this book being referred to as a standalone novel – but if Black decides to write a sequel I’d be more than happy to follow her characters, especially Hazel and Jack, on another trip to the forest.

 

The Secret History of Wonder Woman: Superhero Saturday

This week I listened to The Secret History of Wonder Woman by Harvard American History professor Jill Lepore – since I’m a superhero geek, a writer, and a historian it seemed like just my kind of book.

First I should confess that, unlike Superman or Green Arrow,  I don’t have a strong personal connection to Wonder Woman.  Two of my fellow writer geek friends are big fans though, and I liked her appearance in Dawn of Justice, so I was really looking forward to learning more about the history of the character.

But, in the end, the best two word review of this book I can give is …weird and incomplete.

There’s a great review by the New York Times here, which describes the high points and nature of the book.   Primarily the fact that the book isn’t really a history of Wonder Woman, it’s a biography of her bizarrely fascinating creator William Moulton Marston and the connection Marston and his um…wives? mistresses?…had to early feminism.  There’s no doubt that this book was thoroughly researched, but  Lepore’s exhaustive detail and emphasis on the racier aspects of Marston’s life gets old and a little creepy.

In addition, there’s three things about this book that bug me so much I almost didn’t finish it.

First, Lepore makes constant reductive connections between Marston’s real life and moments from the Wonder Woman comics. At one point she even suggests that this close connection between Marston’s real life and his creation meant that Marston didn’t actually have an imagination. The historian in me can kind of understand this – but as a writer it made me angry.   What’s next, the suggestion that Huckleberry Finn isn’t imaginative because Mark Twain was a riverboat pilot?  All artists draw from their lives and the world around them.  It’s how, and why, and what they add to it that makes it art.

Second, the book sells itself as a history of Wonder Woman and it’s not.  I really want to know how Wonder Woman survived as a character during the Silver Age of Comics (late 1950s to 1970)- and after reading this book, I have no idea.  Did she have her own titles?  Did they turn her into a housewife?  I don’t know – and I want to know, and the fact that a book that purports to be a history of a character didn’t answer those questions annoys the crap out of me.

Third, and for a geek blogger this is the most irritating thing, Lepore hints at Wonder Woman’s ties to larger comics and superhero history, but never fully explores them.  For example, there is a brief mention of the fact that Wonder Woman’s costume design is so patriotic because Marvel had just released Captain America and DC wanted their own patriotic hero – but then she doesn’t actually discuss the topic of patriotism in Wonder Woman.   Argghhh.  And how does Wonder Woman compare with other depictions of women in comics at the time?  Yeah, I don’t know.  Double Argghhh.

So now I need another history of Wonder Woman – one that spends less time talking about the entire whackadoodle life of her creator, and more about how this character became one of the iconic big three of the superhero world.

If anyone knows where I can find that book, I am definitely interested.

Take Joy by Jane Yolen: Writer Books Review

I know this comes as a big shock, but I love reading books about writing.  And I like writing about books about writing, and hopefully you’ll like reading the writing about books about….okay enough of that – here’s my first review 🙂

I’m starting with one of my absolute favorites: Jane Yolen’s Take Joy: A Writer’s Guide to Loving the Craft.

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My much beloved – and used – copy of the book.

I love the whole premise of this small book,  which is a reaction against the idea that the writer’s life and the writing process need to be full of pain and agony in order to create good art.  Yolen says:

“Stories grace our actual lives with their fictional realities. Like angels they lift us above the hurrying world; they carry us in their pockets of light. How can you not approach such other worlds with joy?”

Hand in hand with this is Yolen’s assertion that writers should write not for publication, which does actually make us crazy, but for ourselves. As she perfectly and precisely puts it:

“I am not writing for them. I am writing for me.”

The book also gives great practical advice. Her section called “Many Voices” is one of the most useful things I’ve ever read about “voice.”  (Something that so many publishing people talk about & yet can’t actually seem to explain.)  Another section discusses the idea of poetry in the context of writing prose that sounds and feels evocative, definitely a skill I want to work on.

But in the end, as a writer who struggles with anxiety and depression, it’s the bigger message of this book that matters to me.  I need writing to be a positive, peaceful force in my life. So when I get tangled up in unfulfilled career expectations or mired in self-doubt, I re-read this book and remember that the key piece of advice from one of the world’s great fantasy authors is “take joy.”